Bush fires, heat waves, flooding and storms are part of the Australian story we all know too well. With recent weather events from Tasmania to Townsville, we thought it might be useful to remind you about workplace shutdowns and what happens when the weather stops work.

In simple terms, when the weather is too extreme to work, businesses may need to enact the ‘stand down’ clause in their agreement or under the terms of the Fair Work Act. A stand down clause sets out the circumstances in which an employer may send home employees, generally due to weather events or natural disasters.

During a stand down period, employees aren’t entitled to be paid (including full and part time employees), however, you may be able to come to an agreement with the employees about taking paid annual leave, or working remotely, if suitable for the role in question. A stand down period is often a time of stress for all parties involved, so trying to be flexible about the needs of your employees, as well as that of the business, is critical.

In some cases, a stand down clause may also apply due to equipment breakdown or some cases of industrial action. Stand down events are out of the employer’s control; so planned outages of machinery won’t make the cut to send the team home without pay. Be sure to consider whether the employees (or even some of the employees) are able to be usefully employed in a varied role before issuing a stand down decision, as there have been disputes about this issue in the past.

It’s critical to check the terms of your award or agreement to:
1, check that there is a stand down clause in any workplace agreement;
2, understand the requirements of any stand down clause; and
3, check is there is an alternate, inclement weather clause.

The Building and Construction General On-Site Award 2010, for example, has an inclement weather clause, with very specific instructions on how to manage a weather event in this industry. Stand down clauses are not written into Modern Awards and are instead found in the Fair Work Act, s. 524.

As always, safety should be the ultimate priority, so if a weather event has caused or is likely to cause unsafe conditions at your workplace, shutting down the workplace (whether for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks) may be the only safe option to take. As part of your stand down procedures, you should also take into account your obligations in relation to workplace health and safety. This may include the process for how you decide it’s safe for employees to return to the workplace and how they will complete their work if machinery or other business tools have been affected by the weather event.

For employers who aren’t confident in managing these processes themselves, talk to us about our workforce management solutions. We’ve got a wide range of employment solutions to suit many businesses.

Don’t forget, this is general information only and doesn’t take any of your business circumstances into account.